Report raises concerns about safety in the trucking industry

By: Jason Whittaker

A report into work-related fatalities threatens to derail arguments by the transport industry that safety is not a significant problem

A report into work-related fatalities threatens to derail arguments by the transport industry that safety is not a significant problem in the trucking sector.

The Australian Safety and Compensation Council’s annual statistical report on notified fatalities across a number of workplaces raised serious questions about safety in the trucking industry.

Of the 162 fatalities noted in the report, vehicle accidents caused the greatest number of deaths at 30, with the trucking industry responsible for 18, or 60 percent, of them.

Of those 18 incidents, heavy trucks were involved in the death of six workers and four bystanders with seven of those 10 fatalities occurring in road traffic accidents.

The number of fatalities involving non-traffic, low-speed incidents accounted for seven of the 18 incidents, with the report finding trucks responsible for killing six pedestrian workers and one bystander.

Furthermore, one bystander was killed during the loading and unloading of materials carried on trucks. This was coupled with the report’s findings that the transport and storage industry was responsible for the greatest number of bystander fatalities at five.

And there is cause to suggest the number of fatalities may be even higher.

"Because the police generally investigate vehicle accidents on public roads, many work-related fatalities involving vehicles are not notified to state or territory OHS (occupational health and safety) jurisdictions," the report says.

The report’s findings come as a blow to the trucking industry, which at a time of increased police and public scrutiny is trying to play down concerns over safety in the trucking sector.

Jill Lewis, Manager of the Australian Trucking Association’s (ATA) NSW branch, says the public misunderstood the sector.

"When there is a truck accident or an incident on our roads, the media report it as if trucks are the root of all evil," she says.

"I stress that even one accident is one too many but the number of fatal crashes involving trucks has fallen dramatically."

Lewis says the ATA NSW is working to ensure truck drivers operate in a safe manner, but stressed it is not a significant problem

"Overall the number of problems is very minor," she says.

Despite Lewis’ calls for calm, the report says there were 5.3 deaths per 100,000 employees in the transport and storage industry, well above the national rate of 1.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers.

All up, the transport and storage industry accounted for 27 fatalities, made up of 22 incidents involving workers and five involving bystanders.

The number of deaths involving workers has risen 59 percent in just two years, as the report notes that in 2003-4 the number of recorded deaths was nine.

According to the report, the transport and storage industry was mainly responsible for driving up total annual fatalities by 16 percent.

Of all the recorded deaths, older workers were most likely to suffer a fatal incident.

"The rates for workers aged 55-64 years and 65 years and over were 2.1 and
4.4 respectively per 100,000 workers, compared with a rate of 1.0 fatality per 100,000 workers for workers aged 15 to 24 years and 25 to 34 years," the report says.

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